By BosNewsLife Middle East and Africa Services with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– An Egyptian Christian faced another tense Saturday, December 25, fearful of leaving his home amid death threats, after he was charged with “defaming Islam” for converting from Islam to Christianity, Christians said.
Ashraf Thabet, 45, was released August 21 from prison but charges remain against him “with no indication of when the case will go to court,” said Voice Of the Martyrs, an advocacy group closely monitoring the case. “He is extremely concerned about re-arrest.”
Thabet, who lives in Port Said, northeast Egypt, has said he in Christ in 2004 after questioning his Muslim beliefs; Thabet reportedly learned about the Christian faith through a Christian friend, as well as websites and other media. During these years, reportedly shared his doubts about Islam and told others what he was learning about Jesus Christ.
Angry that he questioned Islam, Ashraf’s Muslim friends arranged for him to meet with several Islamic leaders, according to investigators. During the meeting, the Islamic leaders also expressed anger toward him for his questions and turned in Ashraf to state security officials, Christians said. He has been interrogated multiple times and was told he could not talk to anyone about his religious views, according to Christians familiar with the case.
One evening, police reportedly arrived at Ashraf’s home, kicking down his front door and assaulting him in front of his crying wife and children. They confiscated his computer, books and CDs, and then took him to jail, according to VOM and other rights investigators. “He was repeatedly interrogated and spent time in solitary confinement,”VOM said.
After 132 days in jail, Ashraf was informed of the “defamation of religion” charge against him. He also learned that Muslim leaders in his neighborhood “bribed his wife to divorce him” and take away his 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, local Christians said. BosNewsLife was not immediately able to confirm the alleged bribe independently.
“He has only been able to see his children briefly, and his court battle has left him unable to work, unable to obtain a driver’s license and without much savings,” VOM explained. “Ashraf also receives death threats on a regular basis. Most days, he is too fearful to venture outside his apartment.”
VOM said it had urged its supporters to “Pray that Ashraf will draw strength from the Lord, entrusting his life to God’s sovereign care during this difficult time” and that “charges against him will be dropped.”
Christians comprise a minority in the Islamic nation of 80 million people. Most Christians are Copt, a word derived from the Greek name Aigyptos, which means Egypt. Egyptian authorities have denied a crackdown on Christianity and say they will protect the nation against Islamic extremism, but rights groups say not enough has been done to improve the situation of religious minorities.